E-commerce is continuing to grow in the UK. Last year, industry revenue increased 11% to reach €157 billion. This year, it’s forecast to hit a new high of €173.7 billion. Welcome news in these uncertain times.

However, as retailers continue to invest in the quality of their online platforms and delivery infrastructure, it’s equally vital to invest in their understanding of the consumer, lest this opportunity be squandered.

One way of doing so is to use social media analytics for business intelligence. By analysing the world’s major social media platforms, which could fairly be called the largest focus group in human history, retailers can gather and apply valuable insights to their business in real-time. What’s more, social media offers a way to tap into shoppers’ authentic emotional state that more formal market research methods can’t match.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As such, what follows are some key insights from our recent report, Analysing eCommerce in the UK, for which we examined English language conversations on public social media platforms in the UK, between October 2014 and October 2016.

This not only helps us identify typical UK e-commerce consumers, but helps us dig deeper into the reasons behind their buying habits too…

Who is the UK e-commerce consumer?

Our social analytics reveals 58% are female, 42% are male and that people under the age of 17 and over 35 are by far the largest e-commerce users.

While it’s not surprising 35+-year-old shoppers - who likely have more discretionary funds - talk about e-commerce more, the prevalence of 17-year-old and under shoppers might raise a few eyebrows. However, when you consider this age group are the children of the 35+ demographic, and most likely use their parents’ funds to shop online, it makes sense. Also, young people are less likely to have access to a car with which to visit stores and malls, making online shopping a more valuable alternative.

When examining the overall interests of those who use and talk about e-commerce in the UK, we see parenting and babies dominate the conversation. This suggests mums and people with young children are the most frequent users of e-commerce.

This also makes sense, given new parents are particularly time-poor, making online shopping a lifesaver.

Why do UK shoppers buy online?

Discounts are the single biggest reason people in the UK shop online – with 44% citing it as a motivator. Not having to go out or face the crowds comes in second at 25%. Just under a fifth (18%) said they shop online because the products or brands they purchase are only available online.

How does the UK compare to the rest of Europe?

Reports and stats in recent years have repeatedly crowned the UK as the Queen of Europe’s e-commerce expansion. The results pulled from our social media analytics platform help paint this picture even more vividly.

We began by identifying Europe’s top e-commerce market contributors. They are (from largest to smallest): Germany, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. We compared the conversation around e-commerce in the UK to that of the combined conversation around e-commerce in each of these countries - in their own languages.

The UK has three times as many conversations as the competition’s combined 980,437 mentions. It seems, as a nation, we really do like to talk shop.

It’s also important to understand the emotional dimensions of the UK e-commerce social conversation - and it can make for scary, albeit instructive reading for retailers. Anger is clearly the dominant emotion for e-commerce users across the UK with 52% of mentions registering this emotion.

Further examination reveals this stems from people’s frustration with online shopping issues such as lack of free delivery, long delivery times, annoyance over cancelled orders or pricing discrepancies. Joy comes in second place, with 34% self-reporting this emotion. Here the feeling stems from consumers’ satisfaction at the ease of shopping online as opposed to in-store, or their happiness over having got all their shopping done at last.

While e-commerce trends in Europe are also on the rise, there’s still a gap in the market between those countries who are employing it successfully and those who are not. For example, 78% of the UK population reported shopping online in the last two years, compared to only 10% of Romanians and 22% of Italians.

What you can do to seize the opportunity

Based on this data and these insights, e-commerce retailers looking to drive growth in 2017 and beyond would do well to consider the following tips.

• A conversation is happening, listen and be part of it
Given UK shoppers’ desire to talk e-commerce, it would be foolish not to invest in your social presence and analytical capabilities.

• Focus on offering compelling deals
Providing discount codes or online-exclusive deals are critically important for winning over modern web-savvy consumers and earning their ultimate purchase decision.

• Realise that customer experience is king
Given the UK’s propensity for angry tweets, anything retailers can do to ensure a smooth, fast, convenient and customer-centric online shopping experience will only help their brand.

• Showcase your product range and variety
Consumers’ appreciation for product variety online in contrast to brick-and-mortar stores has more than doubled in the last five years, nor do they expect to be limited by geography.

• Fast, free shipping is now the norm
The low volume of positive conversation around free shipping shows customers no longer consider it a differentiating factor. To compete, you must offer it too.

• Prove your security to capitalise on consumer confidence
Conversation around scams has decreased thanks to better security and law enforcement. Yet online safety still accounts for 10% of conversation. Address the issue and reassure your users.

As you can see, retail brands really can use social media as a strategic business intelligence source to better understand the landscape and trends of the eCommerce conversation. By looking at these kinds of unbranded conversations, retailers can take action, respond to shoppers’ needs and create more tailored, effective campaigns.

With so many online shopping outlets out there, retail brands need to fight to stay competitive. By optimising their online shopping experience through the actionable insights from social media analytics, listening brands can remain one step ahead of the rest.


By Justin Khaksar, managing director and senior vice president EMEA & APAC at Crimson Hexagon

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